Saturday, August 24, 2013

You (Insert Appropriate Phrase Here) for Your Age

Have you noticed how often someone pays you a half-baked compliment these days by ending whatever it is with “for your age”? (Or some equally dismissive qualifier.) A head nod to my friend Keith Mosher for suggesting this blog topic for Retirement Sparks. I knew the minute he said it that he had a great idea—for someone his age.

“You’re really quite agile!” sounds like a vote of approval for how you avoided being mowed down by a fully-loaded, runaway shopping cart in a parking lot. That is, until the person who lost control of the cart adds: “for someone your age.” Lucky for them you’re agile, because we’re also litigious at our age.

“You smell lovely!” brings a smile to your face and lifts your spirits. But then you hear the after-remark: “for an old lady.” That’s when you shoot back: “And you don’t smell half bad either, for an old fart.” Speaking of which, why is it everyone seems to think that people over 65 are out-of-control fart machines? If we pass a ripe one, it’s usually because we really meant to, as a sort of olfactory editorial.

Then there’s the brain-function comments. “You sure seem to have your wits about you.” “You’re pretty sharp!” “You catch on quickly.” All for—you guessed it—someone my age. It’s inevitable that the brainpower of seniors will provoke remarks. What can we expect when we tote around books of Sudoku and crossword puzzles? Some of us do it to fight off senility. Others use them to kill time in doctors’ waiting rooms. Maybe we should wrap them in brown paper bags. Or the recycled cover of Fifty Shades of Grey.

The most offensive comment is: “You’re really interesting to talk to, for someone your age.” This remark is always delivered with a look of utter amazement. Do they really think that the only things people over 65 talk about are their medications and their digestive systems? We read the paper (perhaps more often in a printed version than they do, but we read it.) We keep up on current events and political issues. How else would we know how much better life was when we were younger?

Sometimes I’m tempted to reply: “And you’re surprisingly literate and well-informed for someone so young!” But really, what’s the point? They probably haven’t got a clue about sarcasm.

For most of my adult life, I didn’t wear a lot of makeup. When I painted my face for some special event, colleagues would often tell me: “You clean up nice.” Now when I hear this, it’s usually followed by one of those odious age-qualifiers. I’d like to think I’d still clean up nice even if I weren’t of a certain age. Hope springs eternal.

One thing I’m aware of whenever I’m out is keeping my spine erect, whether I’m walking or sitting. I’m convinced that decent posture is one way to confuse people about how old I really am. I base this on the fact that the elderly are expected to be hunched over, bent over, doubled over or just plain folded over. I know I’m losing this battle when I hear that I have nice posture for my age. That’s enough to make me sit with my head between my knees.

I’ve always walked at a good clip, for two reasons. One is that I’m short, so I need to take three steps for every two that the person next to me takes. That makes we walk briskly. Also, I worked in Manhattan for 20 years. If you lollygag there, you’re a prime target for purse snatchers and muggers. When you walk fast, they figure you’re a native and you don’t suffer fools gladly. They move on to the meanderers. These days my brisk walk is likely to generate one of those “for your age” comments.

No. I don’t walk fast “for my age.” I walk fast for my height. Or for someone my weight. Or for a person who has absolutely no place to be this afternoon and all the time in the world to get there. And don’t you forget it, even if you do have a terrible memory—for someone your age. (Insert sarcasm font here.)

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